A few years I had a performance review in which I got heavily criticized for “not appearing engaged enough” in meetings and other social situations. As an extreme introvert (by Meyers-Briggs standards), I often find it difficult to relate to a large room filled with very exuberant and outgoing people. And while it’s far from being debilitating, my penchant for listening rather than talking has at times, as in the case of my former manager, earned me a reputation as aloof and unengaged, when in reality I’m simply listening rather than talking.
I spent a long time trying to change, until a subsequent manager helped me remember that each person is different and that the better manager tries to mold themselves to their people, not the other way around. This is not to say that I didn’t make my fair share of mistakes in that previous role – I did, many times over – but I came to realize that my former manager also missed a few opportunities to relate to me more successfully.
That story came back to me yesterday when I stumbled across a post by Carl King on the 10 Most Common Myths About Introverts. As a strong introvert, I definitely related to all ten of his points, none more than the last one:
Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts … A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.)
It got me to thinking about the difference between introverts and extroverts in the enterprise setting. I don’t know whether it’s that we expect our leaders to be outgoing and charismatic or whether the outgoing and charismatic are the best at positioning themselves for advancement. Regardless, it seems that too often the strong introverts are, for whatever reason, overlooked. A recent study published in Harvard Business Press points to the necessary balance between introverts and extroverts on teams.
A new study finds that extraverted leaders actually can be a liability for a company’s performance, especially if the followers are extraverts, too. In short, new ideas can’t blossom into profitable projects if everyone in the room is contributing ideas, and the leader is too busy being outgoing to listen to or act upon them.
An introverted leader, on the other hand, is more likely to listen to and process the ideas of an eager team. But if an introverted leader is managing a bunch of passive followers, then a staff meeting may start to resemble a Quaker meeting: lots of contemplation, but hardly any talk. To that end, a team of passive followers benefits from an extraverted leader.
So it seems that the best teams benefit from the mix between introverts and extroverts. The problem, of course, comes when it’s only the introverts that recognize and promote the introverts, leading to silos of introverts and different silos of extroverts. Put another way, you get one group that only wants to think and plan and another group that is all to eager to execute, regardless of the level of planning involved. Each type brings a much needed skill – and check and balance – the other other.
Once I found my place in a team that recognized – and even encouraged – my personal style, I can say that I found a place where I could chase my successes.